GUNNERY. At least the gunnery course didn’t have the added flavour of lightning strikes. We made enough noise and explosions ourselves. I have always loved firearms, I know it’s not PC these days to admit to such things, PC can go and… well you get the drift. Even as a small boy I would make my way up and down the street wearing my Wyatt Earp, ‘Buntline Special Colt’ in one holster with a Lone Ranger cap gun in the other. if you had a roll of caps it was like finding gold. Not forgetting to wear a Davy Crockett hat and carry a musket carved out of a plank of wood. A bread and butter knife in the belt and I was armed for bear. It must have kept them away, there weren’t any bears in our street as long as I lived there.
I learned a huge lesson about firearms at 5 years old. My father and I went to his sister’s farm up near Lancaster, UK. Her husband Sam had a huge collection of weapons stacked in the laundry at the rear of the house. They decided to go rabbit shooting, picked their rifle of choice then strode out leaving me behind. Well, that wasn’t going to happen. I spied a Winchester .22 single shot rifle, made sure Aunty wasn’t watching picked it up and ran out the door after them. I can still see them walking ahead, wearing their cloth caps, smoking and chatting, with their guns held in the crook of the arm, looking for all the world like a pair of country squires. Holding my little rifle I ran up the slope after them, “Dad, Dad, wait for me, I want to shoot rabbits too.”
Naturally I wasn’t looking where I was going, tripped, fell forward and the rifle discharged. The round went that close to dad’s ear it made him wince. It didn’t take much to upset the man, he ran back picked me up by the arm and slapped me silly. (Oh – so that’s why I’m like this.) Every slap punctuated with. “You-slap-will-slap-not-slap-do-slap-that-slap-again-slap,slap,slap. Uncle Sam dragged me away and Dad turned on him. They didn’t get to go out after the rabbits. A harsh lesson that even after 56 years makes me check that even a replica pistol isn’t loaded. Except for the below event that is.
I hear the curious amongst you ask, ‘So, why do you have a German 88mm Flugzeugabwehrkanone on your page?’ The Gunnery wing had one on display outside the hut occupied by the officers and staff. Put two bored young troopers next to one with not a lot to do and well, it goes downhill from there. JJ and I expended some sweat on moving the traversing and elevation gears, finally having it point at our sergeant major, Lee Bonser’s door. You would really think that all that slapping would have been enough – no. Naturally we thought it was hilarious. Lee come’s out and stares at the working end of an 88mm and calls out, ‘So Trooper Smith, I take it you like my 88?’ – ‘Err, yes sir I do.’ (I mean, what else could I say?) ‘Good, I’ll be here in the morning, so make sure you and your mate turn up at 0800 tomorrow. You like it that much, you can clean it.’ I had other things to do on a Saturday morning, wash my undies, clean the room, go and get a haircut in Seymour. True to his word he stood waiting for us with buckets, rags, paint and brushes. By the time we’d finished that 88 looked like new.
The contraption fastened to the barrel of the Saladin in the picture, held a stripped down .22 calibre semi-auto rifle. It was connected to the electrical firing system of the main armament and calibrated with the periscope sight. A mini firing range stood near to where the picture was taken. It looked like any normal firing range except for the miniature wooden vehicles and tanks, little houses, bunkers etc. Also a device that dragged those wooden tanks around so you could practice on a moving target. I found my niche in the turret of the Saladin when we moved onto the real thing. Sitting on that tiny seat, cramped between the gun and the turret wall, just enough room to move, the smell of gun oil and cordite. The noise on firing, the clunk as the empty case flew out, the vehicle rocking from the recoil. Watching through the periscope sight at the glow from the rear of the round as it headed towards the target. Fire orders being yelled over the internal radio. The explosion as your target went up. Then you had the .30 calibre Browning machine gun mounted next to it, now that gave you a thrill. Talk about a turn on, it was War Porn. The only downside was the cordite fumes, they’d make you cough. The extractor fans never worked and you smelled of cordite for days, especially when you farted. The only way to get rid of the taste, (not from the farts) was to drink lots of milk. Oh yeah and the headaches.
Quite often we would share the range with those doing the gunnery course on the Centurion tanks, armed with a 20 pdr gun. They had a greater range than ours and to see their rounds explode on the mountain at the far end of the range was something else. Two instructors gave us a demonstration of marksmanship one day. A white 44 gallon drum could be seen 2 kilometres away and they shot it up like a pair of cowboys shooting empty bottles. It would bounce in the air, land and the other would shoot sending it up in the air again. They were good. To say I was a happy camper would be an understatement.
MELBOURNE. Capital city of Victoria, 115 kilometres away from Pucka and the mecca for eager soldiers who wanted to get away from it all. A steady stream of soldiers would stand on the highway heading south on Saturday mornings, many dressed in uniform to make sure they got a lift. With the bare minimum of toiletries and a change of socks and undies most would head for the Army Club in St Kilda. You could get a cheap room with basic facilities and have somewhere to crash when your night went sour. Which happened more often than not. I won’t bore you with the tourist delights of this fair city. Melbourne has been called the old aunty for one very good reason. Like old aunties with secrets they want to keep them hidden from view. Where Sydney could be looked at as the flirty young thing, in your face and ready for anything, Melbourne seemed staid and reserved, underneath that high buttoned collar and crinoline skirts she was a bigger tart than Sydney. There were no shortage of pubs and theatres but where the hell were the strip clubs and trendy bars where you could pick up women? They were there, if you knew where to look or at least knew someone who knew where to look. I’ll tell two stories out of many, the first is mine and the second I heard straight from a soldier involved.
JESS AND TESS. After a heavy session on the beer JJ and I decided that the White Ensign club would be THE place to pick up girls and get a bit of the other. Beer does wonderful things to your thought processes and expectations. The White Ensign was a Navy club and not the place to walk in and say, ‘Hellooo sailor.’ For starters the tables and chairs were bolted to the floor, never a good sign and the mirror behind the bar was stainless steel. When someone mentions a pub and calls it a ‘bucket of blood’ this club comes to mind. The only good thing, there were females sitting around the place, varying from 18 to nearly 80 and all of them could drink you under the table. I don’t know how women can do it, sit there and drink vast quantities of ale and never go to the toilet. The place smelled of stale sweat, beer, traces of vomit and horny men. The only thing missing were antlers on heads.
We’ll call them Jess and Tess, two sweet young things out for a good time and who better to give it than a couple of younger Troopers. I remember that they were kind of cute, with long brown hair, a certain worldliness to them and in their late teens. They giggled and laughed at our jokes, whispered in our ears, (does a wet tongue in your ear count?) promised us the earth and drank our money away. Closing time came and we all staggered out arm in arm. The night was cold and Jess hugged me close, her heavy breasts pressed against my arm as she clung tight. Oh the bliss, I felt 7 foot tall and bullet proof. Tess informed us that if we took them back to their flat then, ‘Who knows what the night will bring?’
Whoosh, wallets out, JJ and I checked our finances, yep we could do it. ‘Taxi!’ The driver gave up protesting when the four of us scrambled into the back seat and instead spent the 20 kilometre trip over to Heidelberg checking out the action in his rear view mirror. Action may be an overstatement, oh yes the kissing and fondling saved him putting the heater on. The heavy breathing sounded like we were in a resuscitation chamber. A steady slap of female hands on eager male wrists made up the percussion section to our orchestra of love. No matter what we did their defences couldn’t be breached. Promises of earthly delights had been made and let’s face it when someone sticks their tongue in your ear and says these things surely they are true. This was the late 60’s, free love, eager girls ready to try anything, group sex, let tomorrow take care of itself.
In the 60’s there were two different fashion statements, the mini and the long skirt. Too cold for mini’s Jess and Tess wore those sensible long skirts, with knee boots, tights and the enemy of eager young men everywhere, pantiegirdles. The garment women wear to tuck their bottoms and waists in. That keeps it all together, and them comfortable in the knowledge that short of using a blow torch you’re not getting in. I was beginning to think that these garments were the modern-day version of the chastity belt, and manufactured by the same people who gave us ironclad ships and the Siegfried Line. (it kept the Germans at bay for years) Don’t get me wrong and pardon my forthrightness but getting your hand up the skirt of what appeared to be an eager young lady, was, to a young lad Nirvana. Our testosterone filled taxi ground to a halt near the Heidelberg Hospital. The driver mentioned an obscene amount of money for the fare and JJ indicated that I should pay it. He seemed to be too busy to get his wallet out and I began to find it difficult to get my hand into my pants pocket.
I had to get out of the taxi before removing my wallet. Jess followed and stood at the rear casting nervous glances at Tess, who using some judo hold slipped out of JJ’s grip and the back seat. He went to get out and the girls ran, not your girly, arms and legs flapping running. We’re talking track meet sprinting. The driver sat chuckling to himself, a tiny trail of exhaust smoke curled into the cold night air which carried their laughing voices to us, ‘Thanks for the ride, Suckers’.’ The driver took pity on us and ran us back into town for nothing. We sat next to each other in the back shaking our heads sadly and hoping that our erections would subside before getting back into the city.
BAIT. This story is a sad indictment on humankind yet at the same time funny in its own way. The general term for Gay men in the 60’s was Poofter and sadly like anyone who was radically different from the herd they suffered in many ways. One of which was by groups of men who set out to go Poofter bashing for the sole purpose of hurting someone. We’ll call him NC for Night Crawler, a worm used as bait for fishing. Another lonely night in Melbourne, I wandered out of a pub and stood near the Flinders street railway station. NC and five other blokes from the course pulled up in a VW Beetle. He leaned out of the window and called me over. It looked a tad overcrowded in the back and you could hear the suspension groaning in shock, ‘Hey Smithy, hop in, we’re going Poofter bashing wanna come along?’ Two things concerned me, 1. what the hell were they on about and 2, they’d need a shoe horn to get anyone else inside. ‘Na Mate I’m fine, heading around to the London Hotel, see ya.’
The Beetle groaned as it took off and they gave me a few two-fingered salutes before disappearing into the evening traffic. The next time I saw NC was in the breakfast line on Monday morning, trying to hide the huge love bites on his neck. He couldn’t hide the bruises on face and didn’t want to talk, one of his mates did though, for want of a better word the plan went like this. Drive down St Kilda road to where the homosexual crowd hung out. Drop NC off and have him approach a man in the most expensive car, get in and the others would follow. When NC and his love interest parked the rest of the crew would pounce on the unsuspecting man, beat him up and rob him. They weren’t the brightest crowd. NC approached a man in a Jaguar Saloon car, waved at his mates parked 50 metres away and climbed in. Zoom, away went the Jag. Clunk, cough, clunk went the Beetle.
They found NC a couple of hours later wandering the streets dazed and bleeding. The man had spotted them and naturally took off. When they arrived at lover’s lane he had his way with NC after beating him up. It seemed that he had taken steps to protect himself by learning martial arts. NC learned all about Karma and unsafe sex. I’m sure he would never have tried anything like that again. All I can say is that at least NC got some unlike JJ and I.
Next week: Books, Baths, Barbers, Big Boy’s Toys and Boots